The Tongan Methodist church is a distinctly Pacific landmark in Otara. It is in the oval shape of a traditional Tongan fale, complete with an interior of large round support pillars and coconut wood floor and ceiling.
But the church building, along with its large hall and purpose-built day care centre, is just one aspect of the congregation’s presence. It also provides active leadership and service to both its local community and the wider church.
Otara presbyter Rev Vaikoloa Kilikiti is the acting superintendent of the Auckland-Manukau parish. Vaikoloa is the first superintendent of the parish to be appointed from New Zealand rather than seconded from Tonga. He is also proud that five ordained ministers have come from his congregation. (Pictured are Rev Vaikoloa Kilikiti and preschool supervisor Ana Talakai).
An important community service the Otara congregation provides is the day care centre it operates Monday through Friday, . The centre has five teachers and serves not only church families but the wider Tongan community.
Vaikoloa says the day care centre focuses on teaching children to speak and read in Tongan. “Studies have shown that pre-schoolers fluent in Tongan perform better in the English-language system once they begin regular schooling.”
Another programme the Otara congregation runs for both church and community is Kilikali, a social group for Tongans over 65. It features health awareness exercising, Tongan weaving, and games.
The congregation’s young men’s group provides a place for members socialise. It also raises funds that support the church and provide scholarships to promising students.
The Otara congregation also has a strong Methodist Women’s Fellowship, youth group, and Sunday school. The youth group counts former All Black Pita Alatini among its old boys.
Vaikoloa presents a weekly Tongan language radio programme on Auckland community radio station 104 Planet FM. The programme features reflection, church community notices, prayer, hymns and Bible quizzes for young people.
Typical of Tongan congregations, the activity never really stops at the Otara church. On Mondays it hosts a health awareness programme and prayer meeting. Choir practice takes place on Tuesdays and there is a mid-week prayer service on Wednesday. On Thursday evenings there is home Bible study and on Friday evenings a youth programme.
Saturdays see social activities and choir practice in preparation for Sunday services. Three services take place on Sunday – dawn prayers at 7am, the main service at , and Christian education at . Most parishioners attend all three.
Though the Otara church can hold nearly 500 people, it has become too small for the congregation. Vaikoloa says the congregation will become an independent parish later this year, and eventually it plans to establish a second congregation in Otara.